by Diane Spicer
Ankle injury prevention for hikers is a big deal.
And it should not be a matter of luck.
There are many things you can do to protect your ankle joints as they endure the pounding of walking while load bearing (carrying a pack or a baby carrier up a trail, for instance).
And if you have sore ankles after a hiker, you've got some work to do!
Job number one:
It's built around one bone called the talus, doing double duty: the talus joins the bones of the calf area (tibia and fibula) with the other foot bones.
It's the talus bone which distributes the weight of your body and whatever you're carrying to the bones beneath it in your foot.
I find it particularly cool that "talus" is also a geology word to indicate the jumbled rock pile found at the bottom of a steep slope.
However, talus slopes can be dangerous to ankles, given the tendency of loose stones to slide beneath the weight of a hiker.
It's your ankle joint which allows you to navigate these uneven surfaces, or to recover from stepping into a hole, and generally to give you mobility along the hiking trail.
Ever notice how your elbow and knee joints only bend like a hinge, not swivel around like the ankle?
Each joint is designed for a specific purpose, and in a highly mobile joint such as your ankle, you want to prevent injuries and retain full mobility so you can keep hiking.
Hikers bear a lot of weight from full backpacks, heavy water bottles, carrying children or babies, or having a bit of extra body weight.
Some ankle injuries are very common for hikers, so let's take a look at those now.
A common ankle injury on the hiking trail is a "twisted" or "sprained" ankle.
You haven't twisted the bones, but rather the soft tissue which is associated with this area joining the leg and the foot.
When ligaments "tear", your ankle becomes inflamed as a protective response to deal with the injury:
Time to get off the ankle and apply RICE:
Keep yourself off crutches by warming up before each hike: stretch your calf muscles, do some ankle rolls before lacing up your boots, make sure your entire body is loose and limber before tackling a steep section of the trail.
You may also hear about ankles strains.
These are different than sprains because it's the tendons of the muscles joined to the bone, not the ligaments, which are torn.
You will be facing a longer recovery time, because that area is not well served by the circulatory system.
For a complete litany of ankle injuries, read this.
Which brings us to another good reason for warming up before you hit the trail:
Ankle injury prevention shouldn't be confined to a few minutes at the trail head, however.
Here are a few tips for incorporating ankle care into your daily routine.
You have a huge piece of soft tissue that anchors your calf muscle to your heel bone, in other words in your ankle area.
It's easy to find - just grab the back of your heel and marvel at the tough Achilles heel tendon between your fingertips.
This tendon can become inflamed or torn, and that means no hiking for a long, long time regardless of how much ankle injury prevention you practice.
So while we're in the ankle area, a little self care for this tendon is in order.
Before you start a hike, or before any activity if you want to stay on the safe side, perform a simple Achilles tendon stretch:
During a hike, when your calves feel tight, press against a stable rock or log with a flexed foot (or use a handy wall at home) to feel that same stretch.
Want the most low tech approach to strengthening your Achilles tendons for hiking?
Ankle injury prevention is a full time job, but doesn't have to be expensive or onerous.
A bit of self care, including massage, never hurt the soft tissue of this joint!
Compression socks with inbuilt support can help your feet perform in harmony with your ankles.
If you do nothing else: stay hydrated.
It's a brilliant idea to walk every day, on uneven terrain if possible, with elevation gains and losses, to keep your ankles up for the job of dealing with variable trail conditions.
Hiking humor is important, even when discussing ankle injury prevention.
So here's a hiker's joke for you:
Why do hikers have ankles?
That, and to take us up and down the trail, hour after hour.
So ankle injury prevention just makes sense for hikers AND mosquitoes, right?
If your feet hurt after a hike, use these tips to make life easier:
Ankle Injury Prevention Tips